Dad and the Diploma: The Difference Fathers Make for College Graduation

This AEI policy brief investigates whether involved fathers impact their kids’ chances of success in college—and finds that they surely do. Using data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, a 1994–95 study of a nationally representative sample of children in grades 7–12, the author found that children whose fathers are involved in their lives (measured by adolescent-reported data on such activities as receiving homework help, playing a sport, or discussing personal issues) while they attend high school are far more likely to graduate from college—98 percent more likely, in fact. Perhaps the most important (if not surprising) takeaway is that young adults in college-educated homes are more likely to be raised in an intact family with an involved father and are therefore more advantaged than their counterparts in non-college-educated homes. Since this means that most young adults from poor or working-class families are far less likely to receive a college education, a question arises: how can we tackle the fatherhood divide between children from educated and less-educated families? This ultimately highlights a very important problem without an easy solution—and serves as a reminder that it’s never too early to celebrate Father’s Day.

W. Bradford Wilcox, “Dad and the diploma: The difference fathers make for college graduation,” The Home Economics Project (Washington, D.C.: American Enterprise Institute, April 22, 2014).

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